When Joe Russo (of Russo brothers fame) was casting about for just the right person to direct his action thriller Extraction, he opted for a nontraditional choice: Sam Hargrave, a stunt coordinator who had been itching to try his hand at directing.
Granted, it’s not the first time a stunt coordinator has made the transition to behind the camera. Chad Stahelski, director of the John Wick franchise, was a former stunt choreographer who worked with Keanu Reeves on The Matrix movies. Hargrave’s stunt work has been featured in Avengers: End Game and Captain America: Civil War, for example, as well as The Hunger Games franchise and Atomic Blonde. And like Stahelski, he brought that stuntman’s sensibility to the challenge of directing the action-packed Extraction.
“For me, action is a way to tell a story in a dynamic way,” says Hargrave. “And if you’re not able to see what’s happening, if you’re not able to experience it as the characters do, then you’re missing a lot of the impact of the moment.”
In the film, Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is a blackmarket mercenary who is enlisted to rescue the kidnapped son, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), of an international crime lord. What should have been a relatively straightforward extraction quickly goes sideways, and Rake and Ovi must fight their way through swarms of heavily armed adversaries to reach safety.
One scene in particular posed a challenge, given Hargrave’s tight budget, time, and resource constraints. It takes place at the end of the film’s first act, when Rake has successfully rescued Ovi from his kidnappers in Dhaka and is on the verge of bringing the boy to safety, per the original extraction plan. But then a new player bursts onto the scene: Saju (Randeep Hooda), a top aide to Ovi’s imprisoned father, who tries to take Ovi back from Rake to avoid paying for the job. It’s a critical turning point in the film.
The scene covers 15-20 pages in the script, and it’s all non-stop action, involving gun play, hand-to-hand combat, wire work, and high-speed car chases through the crowded side streets of Dhaka. Typically, a director would shoot each part of the sequence over and over, from different camera angles, to get all the necessary coverage, but Hargrave didn’t have that luxury.
So he opted to make it look like a “oner”—industry slang for a long continuous action sequence with no cuts—except in this case, Hargrave stitched together 36 segments to make the final sequence as seamless as possible. Not only did the strategy pay off in terms of conserving resources, but it ramps up the adrenaline by putting the audience right in the middle of the action as the rescue mission goes sideways.
As we learned when we sat down with Hargrave, that decision brought its own set of challenges. Each individual segment had to be filmed so that it ended right where the next segment began, and maintaining continuity (whether for wardrobe, special effects makeup for various wounds, or Hemsworth’s sweaty shirts) proved especially complicated.
Hargrave wasn’t able to import his usual array of prop guns into India, which has strict gun control laws, so all those scenes were shot with rubber guns, with additional effects added in post production. All the stunt cars needed special configurations, depending on the shooting needs, and Hargrave ended up designing a compact, configurable camera system half the weight of the usual full-sized lens camera package, so that he could film from the center of the action. Somehow it all came together in the end, and the result is a high-octane, beautifully choreographed sequence designed to thrill viewers.
We hope you all are enjoying the latest batch of War Stories. The next set of videos will focus on Alan Wake, Robert the Bruce, and an extended version of one our most popular War Stories. Stay tuned for more episodes soon.
Listing image by Ars Video